EDITORS NOTE: When I first heard about Slab City I was intrigued. A place nestled between the badlands of Cali & Vegas where people take the law into their own hands, vigilante justice prevails and hordes of outcast artists have come to call home. The only rules of this vast desolate township is there there are no rules. Michelle Achterhof was one of those fortunate enough to experience first hand what living in this place is like, and has written (in her own words) the experience of shaking off the confides of expected social pressures and living like there is no tomorrow…
Slab City is one of the deserts best kept secrets. Although fairly well known among the traveling community, not only because it’s a strange and unusual place but it’s also a perfect place to set up camp for the winter and be left alone by the authorities. The whole place feels like a post apocalyptic city wasteland like something straight out of a graphic novel, Orperhaps an old time sideshow. Theres a thriving community of old timers hippies and vagabonds within the slabs. Some are friendly and some keep to themselves.
I’ve heard it called ‘the last free place in America’ quite often, because it isn’t under any certain jurisdiction. The desire to be free is why most find their way there. I visited there in 2013 and ended up staying for 6 months, the temperature reached well over 120+. Ive been on the road since 2009 hitchhiking and rubber tramping (living and traveling in a car or any other vehicle with rubber wheels). I live in an RV now, but in 2013, I was living in my Toyota corolla with my boyfriend and two small dogs.
“The whole place feels like a post apocalyptic city wasteland like something straight out of a graphic novel, Orperhaps an old time sideshow.”
Like most free communities people will take the law into their own hands. Anyone who is shady will be burned out aka there living quarters burned to the ground. The community is cut up into sections with dirt roads that each have a different name. Some have even formed clubs which are basically separate smaller communities who live next to and look after one another within the slabs larger community. Most of the more well to do Snowbirds live in the back a good distance away from others. Sometimes they will pay folks to get them firewood Down to the left when you’re just entering is the area where most of travelers stay for the winter setting up temporary camps. Many live in old buses or RVS while others have camps, some basic and some extravagant.
We had our back packs, a small shovel used for digging a hole to go to the bathroom in which we affectionately named “the shit shovel”, and a screen tent we bought at Walmart. For food we had a little camping stove that we cooked things with and since we were lucky enough to have a vehicle we’d make pretty frequent town runs for supplies and would often give others a ride out or in.
That was our camp for a few months until the couple across from us, who’d been there for a number of years, sold there camp to us for $200. It was an instant upgrade and you could tell a lot of time and effort was put into building it. It was built out of a large palo verde tree with a wall made out of palm leaves and an old run down little camper with a place to sleep an outdoor table and chairs two lounging chairs and a dishes and stove area set up against the outside of the camper all under a large shade screen netting. It wasn’t a whole lot to look at but it was paradise for us.
“Like most free communities people will take the law into their own hands. Anyone who is shady will be burned out aka there living quarters burned to the ground.”
Art is everywhere you look. Mostly salvaged recycled art . Theres no shortness of things to look at and explore. Many things to spark some inspiration and imagination. There is even a stage built by the community called “The Range” where people play music and have dances and other social events. Traveling bands would often come and play on the stage. The first thing you will see coming into the slabs is Salvation Mountain which is a huge literal mountain brightly colored and made of plaster. You can climb up it and walk inside of it. It is probably the most well known part of the slabs…many people just come for the day to visit it. Theres a library and a hot springs. Theres even a hole in the ground with four concrete walls, off the side of the road, when you first drive into the slabs, with a continuous flow of water that you climb down into and take a shower.
Dust storms are a regular so face protection like a bandana and goggles are essential. It gets very dusty and very windy. Sometimes the whole car shook. The entirety of the slabs is an old naval base…and there is still a military base not far away. It would not be uncommon to hear mortar fire while cooking breakfast in the morning.
Whether you’re looking for adventure and freedom or simply want to stop through and see some cool stuff The Slabs is definitely something you’ll want to check off your bucket list.
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